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Mavericks Down Falcons, Make History

Gervais, Huggins lead Minnesota State to WCHA Title Game

Minnesota State’s Bryce Gervais helped lead the Mavericks over Bowling Green and into the WCHA Final Five title game. (Photo / Andrew Kuhn, MLive.com)

 

Gervais, Huggins lead Minnesota State to WCHA Title Game

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It took 15 years and five games, but Minnesota State finally has a win in the WCHA Final Five.

The Mavericks scored twice in the second period and two more times in the third in a 4-0 win against Bowling Green Friday at Van Andel Arena.

Minnesota State entered the Final Five 0-4 all-time in the tournament, including an ugly 7-2 loss to Wisconsin last season. It was an experience coach Mike Hastings said played a big part in their win Friday.

“The guys that are here, we’ve talked about trying to make strides as an overall program,” Hastings said in a phone interview. “I think last year’s experience helped us [Friday]. I think we got taught a lesson by Wisconsin. We got off to a better start.”

The victory was the Mavericks’ 25th this season, establishing a new Division I record originally set last season in Hastings’ first year in Mankato. The win also pushed MSU’s unbeaten streak to 12 games (11-0-1), the longest such streak in over a decade.

“From our end of it, it’s important. We kind of want to keep pushing the envelope and make sure we keep moving ahead as a program,” Hastings said.

After a scoreless first period, the Mavericks got on the board early in the second, taking advantage of a 3-on-2 into the Falcons zone when Matt Leitner saucered a backhand pass to Chase Grant in front, who stuffed in his ninth of the season at 3:52.

Bryce Gervais got the second assist on the first goal but was just getting started. Nine minutes later it was his short-handed forecheck that put MSU ahead by two.

After a Max Gaede elbowing penalty put the Falcons on their third power play of the game, BGSU goaltender Tommy Burke left the puck behind his net for Falcons defenseman Ralfs Freibergs. But Gervais won a race to the puck, raced to the front of the net and slipped the puck into the net before Burke could cover the post.

The goal was Gervais’ 16th of the season and 11th in his last 14 games. He has seven goals and four assists in his last six games and the goal Friday was his third short-handed goal of the season, tied for fourth-most in the country.

“He’s doing things Monday through Thursday that’s allowing him to have the success he’s having right now,” Hastings said. “Doing all the hard work, scoring a short-hander, he’s blocking shots, he’s playing with speed and pace. He’s become somebody who is hard to play against because of his want-to.”

MSU scored on another odd-man rush midway through the third period to open up a 3-0 lead. Sophomore center Teddy Blueger intercepted a pass at the Mavericks’ offensive blue line then floated a pass to Johnny McInnis at the right post, who one-timed a shot over Burke’s glove for his 21st of the season with 9:13 left in regulation.

In between, the Mavericks stifling penalty kill kept the Falcons off the board. Ranked sixth in the country entering the game, MSU went 6-for-6 killing penalties and was able to capture momentum from each kill. They finished the day a plus-1 with Gervais’ shortie.

“I thought it was a difference-maker in the game,” Hastings said. “Anytime you can win that special teams battle and be a plus-1 in the game, that can be the difference.”

Gervais sprung Leitner free for an empty-netter with 1:32 left in the game, Leitner’s 12th goal and 43rd point of the season.

Overshadowed by Gervais’ offensive effort was Cole Huggins in goal. He stopped 13 shots in each the first and third periods and 36 in all for his sixth shutout of the season, also a new school record. The win improved him to 20-7-1 on the year.

“He said he wanted to play better than he did last Saturday [a 5-4 OT win for MSU against Northern Michigan],” Hastings said. “I thought he went out and gave us an opportunity to get a lead, one, and two, to not only sustain it but increase it. You need to have your goalie do that this time of year if you want to move on.”

The win boosted MSU’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. A loss to BGSU would have almost certainly ended their season, but the win moved the Mavericks to 11th in the Pairwise Rankings. With 11 other games to be played Friday and handful more on Saturday, Hastings said he would rather not leave their tournament hopes to chance. A win in the Broadmoor Trophy game Saturday against either Ferris State or Alaska-Anchorage would deliver an automatic bid into the NCAAs, which begin next weekend.

“We’re not in. So we’ll see what happens tonight,” Hastings said. “Our margin for error over the last month-and-a-half hasn’t been much and it’s no different right now.

“We have a group of seniors excited about what was put in front of them today. I think the guys have done a good job on focusing on what they have control of. They did that tonight and they were rewarded for it. We’ll have to go right back to ground zero and go to work in the morning.”

Dan Myers’ Three Stars

1 – Bryce Gervais

Gervais’ goal to put the Mavericks up by two was a crushing blow for Bowling Green. Down one and on the power play, BGSU had a chance to tie the score midway through the game but Gervais’ effort was a game-changer. He also had two assists.

2 – Cole Huggins

Huggins made 36 saves, several of them of the underrated variety. He was especially important in the first period, stopping 13 shots and keeping the game scoreless through one period.

3 – Teddy Blueger

This could have gone to any number of Mavericks but Blueger’s heads-up defensive play and sweet pass to set up MSU’s third goal sets him apart. A second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013, Blueger has quietly put up 20 assists this season.

Dan Myers has been covering hockey at all levels for over a decade. After falling in love with the game as a youth watching games with his dad, Dan began writing about it while in college at Minnesota State University, working for the MSU Reporter, Mankato Free Press, USCHO.com and College Hockey News. Dan currently covers the Minnesota Wild in his role as the team’s Digital Content Coordinator. His work has also appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Rocky Mountain News, NCAA.com and others.

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